The 2013 NFL draft is quickly approaching, which for many of us represents the only real instance of football related excitement in the long and barren time period between the Super Bowl and the start of the preseason. All of the big splashy free agency moves are over, and all that’s left to do is to sign second and third-tier players to short contracts and hope to temporarily fill some holes where needed. The draft is (at least for Vikings fans) much more exciting than free agency, as this is where our roster for the coming season and beyond will be truly shaped, and for those of us who have been clamoring for some substantial Vikings news for the past few months, we need only wait a few more days.
There is, and has been for quite a while, a wealth of draft related information out there in the form of scouting reports, mock drafts, and pure speculation on the part of the sports media. A great deal of time is spent in the discussion on where a given player will go, how far he will fall, is he really a first round talent or a second, and so on. We’ve all probably read a little about Manti Teo, Keenan Allen, and other likely draft targets for the Vikings, but if you’re like me and you don’t really follow college football, they’re just names. I’ve watched the highlight videos on Youtube of guys like Tavon Austin, and I have a general idea of where he’s supposed to go in the draft, but again, this information doesn’t do much for me as a Vikings fan.
So I’ve decided to keep it nice and simple. There’s no point in listing a half dozen first round wide receivers and saying “one of these guys will probably be a Viking”, instead I’m going to highlight five major position groups that the Vikings need to fill, and then those of you who care for the draft-time minutia can piece through stats, combine performances, and projected draft positions to debate who exactly the Vikes are going to get to fill these areas of need. Ultimately nobody knows if the Vikings will take Keenan Allen (for example) at no. 23 overall, not even the Vikings. There are too many what-ifs. Will he still be there, will a better player have fallen to that spot, do you even need a wide receiver in the first round? So instead of pure speculation, let’s discuss what we can know for sure. These are the five key positions that the Vikings WILL address in the 2013 draft.
Last years draft was all about making life easy for Christian Ponder. Taking Matt Kalil with the fourth overall pick was a great move, and one that helped solidify the Vikings less than consistent offensive line. That trend will continue this year as the Vikings continue to build around potential franchise quarterback Christian Ponder by adding more talent at the receiver position. For the past few years the Vikings receiving core has been abysmal. Outside of Percy Harvin, there hasn’t been a single consistent or above-average playmaker on the roster since Sidney Rice left, and to be clear his above-average status comes from one season with an above-average quarterback. General manager Rick Spielman tried and failed to address this issue last offseason, and he’ll hopefully finish the job during the 2013 draft. I would expect that one of the two first round picks are going to be used on a wide receiver, and possibly another in the third or fourth.
The argument can be made that the middle linebacker position is the most pressing need the Vikings have at the moment, mostly because they don’t have a middle linebacker. Last year’s starter Jasper Brinkley went off to Arizona, and the Vikes made no attempt to persuade him to stay. But why would they. There are two guys on the roster who could potentially fill that spot, but neither of them were good enough to beat Brinkley out for the starting spot last year, and Brinkley wasn’t having a great year. There’s absolutely no question that the Vikes are going to take a middle linebacker in the draft with the intention of making him the starter day one, the question is, where they take him. Do you use a first rounder to secure someone you really like, or do you wait until the second and hope to get a little more bang for your buck? I honestly don’t know. My guess would be second round, as waiting any longer is probably too much of a risk, but if the draft is as deep at linebacker is everyone seems to think, there’s no need to waste a first round pick. This one could truly go either way.
The Vikings secondary seemed to take a huge leap forward in 2012, mostly because of the addition of Harrison Smith, the excellent play of Antoine Winfield, and the fact that Chris Cook wasn’t in jail. Rookie Josh Robinson stepped in at times and showed some promise, and Jamarca Sanford seemed to finally show up at safety. All of this is great, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, especially after the loss of Antoine Winfield. I would expect the Vikings to take a cornerback somewhere in the middle, probably not in the first couple rounds, and if they take one in the sixth or seventh, don’t expect that person to play a real big part in 2013. I’m looking for a guy to come in and give A.J. Jefferson and Josh Robinson some competition for a starting spot opposite Chris Cook, which is something that should be reasonable for a 3rd, 4th, or 5th round pick. I would be shocked if the Vikes do absolutely nothing to address the cornerback situation, but they could certainly grab a free agent too, doesn’t have to be in the draft.
Kevin Williams is getting old. He might still have some gas in the tank, but he’s getting old. It’s a situation that will have to be addressed sooner rather than later, so it wouldn’t be crazy to guess that the Vikes will use either a first or second round pick on a DT. Of course taking a defensive tackle in the first round is never sexy, but then again neither is taking an offensive tackle, and that worked out really well last year. Sylvester Williams is a name that gets thrown around a lot as a potential draft target, so I wouldn’t be totally surprised if he became a Viking. If it’s not him, it’ll be someone else, but it’s going to have to happen within the next year or so, so why not now when we have plenty of picks to play with?
Every Other Position
Is this entry a copout, or an acknowledgement that general speculation is meaningless? While the answer is probably “yes” to both, there is a third option and it’s one that I think is ultimately true: If there’s a great player available, you take him. It doesn’t matter if Chester Taylor just had a 1,000+ yard season, if Adrian Peterson falls to you in the draft you’d better take him. After the linebacker, receiver, and defensive tackle are addressed, all speculation goes out the window. What the Vikings pick up in the later rounds will ultimately be a function of who’s left on the board, and who they think is the best overall player still around.